Omicron Vs Maharashtra Vs Centre: What’s Wrong In Taking Stronger Safety Measures?

Not only on the front of fighting and containing the COVID-19 pandemic, but on every possible issue under the sun that the central government has been finding faults with the Maharashtra government with unfailing regularity since the Shiv Sena moved away from the winning combine with the BJP and formed a coalition government with the NCP and the Congress in 2019. Now, the clash is on a very dangerously suspenseful issue of containing the new COVID-19 variant, Omicron, and any political rivalry on this may lead to a situation where it is not at all clear who is going to have the last laugh; we better not call it the last laugh, because this is strictly not a laughing matter, if we still remember the catastrophe of the Second Wave that hit the country the hardest due to total neglect, complacency and lack of any kind of preparedness of the central government. Of course, at the moment the situation is much different than in late 2020 and early 2021 with rising vaccination figures and more than 34 million (officially) Indians already infected; but the new COVID variant is also different with multiple mutations and the World Health Organization (WHO) having declared it as a variant of concern.  


We all know that the state of Maharashtra is the worst affected with more than 6.6 million infected people and more than 1.4 Lakh fatalities, the highest in the country. Every new variant has been seen to strike Maharashtra first almost always, and then spreading fast thanks to the largely urbanized, developed and the most connected state with the world having the financial capital of Mumbai. At present, the situation in Maharashtra is well under control with Mumbai topping the country in terms of fully vaccinated citizens—the financial capital having achieved 100% in terms of the first jab and more than 70% in terms of the fully vaccinated ones. It is matter of great foresight that the state government has not found it a matter of complacency and instead, it is concentrating on how to protect the citizens effectively from the new variant. Therefore, the Government of Maharashtra has issued stronger regulatory guidelines which differed from that of the Government of India. And that is, unfortunately, the issue of ‘concern’ in India.


There are several points where Maharashtra opted for stronger measures than the Centre advised: first, while the central government has regulated that international passengers from only the high-risk countries should be subjected to RT-PCR testing on arrival the state government made testing compulsory for all international passengers arriving in Mumbai airport and also a mandatory 7-day institutional quarantine for passengers from high-risk countries (now revised to 6 ultra-risk nations), the latter being absent in central regulations; second, the centre recommends 7-day home quarantine for international passengers who test negative, but Maharashtra extends it to 14 days (now revised to 7 days); third, Maharashtra has made RT-PCR tests compulsory for all international passengers who take connecting flights from Mumbai, the centre having regulated nothing of that sort; fourth, the state government has decided to re-introduce compulsory RT-PCR tests for all domestic passengers too irrespective of the vaccination status (now revised to either of full-vaccination or negative RT-PCR test results) which is also not included in the Government Of India regulations; and lastly, the only common ground between them is the regulation that all international passengers testing positive be sent to hospitals and their samples sent for genome sequencing.


We ask: what’s wrong in Maharashtra having more safety measures in place after suffering through nearly two years of unabated infections and deaths caused by many variants including the disastrous Delta? Why this hue and cry raised for no reasonably valid reasons with some of the TRP-seeking news channels joining in the most unholy cacophony? That the WHO has declared Omicron as possibly a more infectious variant with more than 30 spike protein mutants in it should be reason enough to adversely affect the aviation sector again and drastic changes in travel plans the world over, not just in India (In fact, the Government of India having taken the judicious step of postponing the resumption of international flights scheduled earlier to resume from 15 December). Never to forget that India is still lagging behind the desirable rate of vaccination, call it vaccine-hesitancy or lack of efforts by the authorities, which means that a large of population here is still susceptible to infection. The WHO has also issued advisory that people over 60 years of age should avoid any kind of travel.


The Government of Maharashtra has justifiably defended its decisions citing the clauses under the Disaster Management Act and the Epidemic Diseases Act and the fact that the Centre’s regulations can only be an advisory and not mandatorily implementable for the states, and so the state government has so far only deferred the date for the new guidelines to take effect from which is reasonable as it would not inconvenience travelers unaware of the new measures while boarding their flights. The pressure from the Government of India is continuing to make all states taking the uniform regulations as advised by the centre. And so, if such apparently political rivalries go on it, finally, may seriously impair the fight against the Omicron.


The countries that have imposed travel restrictions have been increasing all the time. Most of the nations of Europe who bore the brunt of several waves already have started shutting themselves off from South Africa and other at-risk nations. The WHO, concerned at the level of reactions, has cautioned the countries against knee-jerk measures. There have been protests in South Africa too where some of the medical fraternity said instead of lauding them for the early discovery of the Omicron variant the global communities are more focused on isolating them. But nobody knows what the best course is to take at this moment as the whole world has been rendered helpless and clueless by the relentless assaults of the Coronavirus.


There have more concerns like the present-day vaccines possibly not working against Omicron and that the new virus must have already spread many more countries than listed so far. Against such concerns the medical fraternity is saying that the available data is still not sufficient to prove that Omicron is more infectious or deadlier than the Delta, and they ask the authorities to wait for a couple of weeks. That is okay, but who knows what’d happen after two weeks? In Mumbai five international passengers have proved COVID-19 positive and genome sequencing of their samples is going on. We may hear more and more from all over the world in the coming days. We hope that the new variant is not deadly and does not lead to severe disease, hospitalizations and deaths.


But, having said all this, there is nothing wrong in getting ourselves ready and fully prepared for any eventuality. The Government of India should ideally be bolder focusing now more on the issue of ‘lives’ than other political or economic issues, and God forbid, if the situation takes a turn for the worse after the medically-significant two weeks, they should be bold enough again to not hold elections in the country till the month of May-2022 at least, apart from other measures of accelerating the vaccination process, of banning public congregations and making COVID appropriate behavior a must for all. We honestly don’t want a repeat of what happened during April-June this year.


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